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Wheels of Justice

“The mills of the gods grind slowly,” says the old Greek adage, “but they grind exceedingly fine.” There was a time when it seemed dictators and caudillos were exempt from this rule. Justice never caught up with them. In the wake of revolutions, those responsible for mass killings and rights violations were allowed to go free for the sake of political peace. When Communist states in Eastern Europe fell, for example, party strongmen were not brought to justice, only barred from politics in a process called lustration.

The first break in the trend came with the 1998 arrest and trial of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Then came the trial of the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who died before his trial concluded, and the arrests of the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who after a long hunt has been extradited to The Hague for trial. In Africa several murderous leaders, most notably Charles Taylor of Liberia, have been tried by regional or international courts. (A final decision in Taylor’s case is still to be rendered.) In Argentina, two former presidents, Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, have been brought to justice for participation in the torture, murder and disappearance of their fellow citizens. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

Now a Guatemalan judge, Carol Patricia Flores, has charged former President Efraín Ríos Montt, right, with genocide for attacks on indigenous peoples during his country’s 30-year civil war. The Montt indictment demonstrates the reach of international law in ending the legal impunity of tyrannous rulers. Though it will provide scant solace to victims and survivors, the growing record of arrests, trials and convictions should begin to provide a deterrent against despotic policies by other leaders.

Just Posted

When Patrick Gilger, S.J., and his Jesuit confreres saw what the popular Web site Grantland had done for sports and pop culture, they wondered if the same vibrant sensibility could be brought to the world of spirituality. Hence The Jesuit Post. The site (thejesuitpost.org), launched last month, is overseen by Mr. Gilger, a student at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., and a team of three young Jesuit editors, with a staff of equally young Jesuit bloggers and writers. To date T.J.P. has tackled such eclectic topics as “Dr. Who,” Flannery O’Connor, the new translation of the Mass, “Downton Abbey,” Google, David Foster Wallace and, naturally, Tim Tebow.

Their aim is to reach young adults. “We’ve got to give them a chance; and we have to speak their language,” said Mr. Gilger. “America, Commonweal and U.S. Catholic do a good job covering issues facing the church, but our attention is explicitly focused on young people: how God is at work in their lives, and at work in lives filled with pop culture.” It was perhaps fitting that this new venture began just as another Jesuit publication, Review for Religious, announced that it would suspend publication after 70 fruitful years. Mr. Gilger averred that T.J.P. is not solely for young people; the Gospel, he notes, is attractive to all. But he plans to hand over the site’s management after a few years to Jesuits younger than himself to avoid the pitfalls of 50-somethings writing for youth: “This is about making sure that it’s relevant to what young people are going through, not what I imagine young people are going through.”

Doubt at Davos

Doubt is something we do not associate with the world’s ruling elites. But it was very much in evidence among the titans of business at the recent World Economic Forum in the ski resort of Davos, Switzerland, where many conferees openly questioned the future of capitalism. Not just professors, whose business it is—though too infrequently—to ask hard questions, but chief executive officers and financiers found themselves wondering about the future of free-market economics. The way some businesses, particularly banks and financial services, have been behaving in the years following the world economic crisis has prompted serious self-examination about how capitalism must transform itself to survive. Some participants proposed that along with profitability, job growth and ecological sustainability must become measures of business success. The excessive emphasis on profit, especially in the financial sector, took some hard hits, and some participants went so far as to suggest that healthy economies must have smaller financial sectors that are more attentive to entrepreneurship, job growth and home ownership.

It was not surprising, then, that the day after the closing of the forum, Sir Philip Hampton, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, returned a £1.4 million bonus after many questioned how a corporation mostly owned by the U.K. government could award a bonus at public expense, after less-than-stellar performance, to an executive who already makes nearly a million pounds a year. As if to put a point on the change, Queen Elizabeth withdrew a knighthood from Fred Goodwin, a former C.E.O. of the bank. The age of excess and irresponsibility is coming to an end. Free-market capitalism will survive, but only in a more agile, responsible, public-spirited form.

Comments

Robert Riley | 2/10/2012 - 9:28pm
Given that the EFFECT of neo-liberal economics as practiced from the Reagan-Thatcher years onward has been to exacerbate income inequality greatly in the USA (and globally, in many cases), not to mention continue the environmentally damaging "endless growth" model, it is indeed time for a re-examination of capitalism.  Perhaps, as Marx suggested, its time in history has indeed passed.

Our church study-advocacy group has become ever more shocked as we look at the net effects of a soulless, "profit as a god," economic system now in operation here.  It is time for us to redesign that system (and its effects upon Congress) so that it becomes, to the degree possible, devoted to the national and global common wellbeing and to ecological sustainability.  If capitalism can NOT be turned to serve ONLY those goals (instead of ever more wealth concentration among the top relative few), then it is time to upend our system and to adopt any of a variety of other "social democracy" models forwarded by a variety of very bright authors/economists.  For one proven example of such a system, check out the experience to date of the giant Mondragon Cooperative in the Basque region of Spain. 
Christopher Mulcahy | 2/10/2012 - 10:37am

“Healthy economies must have smaller financial sectors that are more attentive to entrepreneurship, job growth and home ownership.” 


And who, pray tell, has been propping up larger financial sectors, erecting tax and regulatory hurdles to entrepreneurship and job growth,  and compromising the home mortgage system with stern warnings to include the unqualified?


What we have learned for certain is that the well-intentioned cannot fly the big jet.  If they would stay in their seats and keep quiet the capitalist system would right itself and the equilibrium that has always been a prerequisite for economic progress would be restored.

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